The Corner Store ranked No. 1 in SE Minnesota; Store took in $25,743 in 2017 net profits

Spring Grove’s own municipal liquor store recently received good ratings for 2017, which included a few high rankings in the region and state.

Though the audit reported on-sale operations are down across the state by 19.7 percent from 2016, The Corner Store is ranked in number one out of four liquor stores in the southeast region in terms of “net profit/(loss) as a percent of sales by type of establishment,” according to a state audit report.

Spring Grove reported $423,552 in gross sales and had a net profit of $25,473. Other cities in the “on- and off-sale” category were Plainview, Medford and Mazeppa, respectively.

Caledonia was ranked fourth in the “off-sale only” category, after Kasson, Northfield and Lonsdale, respectively.

The Corner Store is also ranked number one by combo location for on- and off-sale in the southeast region. 

Spring Grove is also ranked 72 out of 223 liquor stores in Minnesota. The southeast region brings in $1.7 million in municipal liquor store revenue.

Caledonia and Spring Grove are currently the only two cities in Houston County who have city-run liquor stores, though Caledonia recorded a net loss of $8,542, according to the audit.

In fact, these two Houston County cities have the only two city-run liquor stores in the southeast corner. Fillmore, Winona, Olmsted and Mower counties do not currently have any city-run liquor stores.

Attributed to The Corner Store’s success are the customers and manager Joe Kessler and his staff.

“We’re very consistent, and customers like consistent staff and hours,” he said. “People have favorites (bars), but they come in here because we’re open.”

Kessler’s staff consists of Jackie Clauson, Caleb Happel, Sharon Horihan, Aaron Zafft, LeAnn Johnson and Nayna Johnson. Customers enjoy getting to know the bartenders and seeing them when they come in. 

Hours are also adjusted for more or less busy days and weekends. The store consistently opens from noon to 11 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays and open at 10 a.m. on Saturdays. The bar is closed on Sundays, though the option to be open is legal in Minnesota.

Even if people don’t sit on one side of the bar, they’re often stopping in to buy their favorite beverage or to look for something new, such as RockFilter’s latest bourbon or local wine from Molly’s Winery near La Crescent.

Another factor is people knowing where their money is going. Profits from the liquor store go into the city’s general fund and eventually get earmarked for projects and departments, such as new playground equipment at Trollskogen Park, new equipment for the fire department, an improved baseball field and more.

About $31,000 was spent on such items, and that’s exactly what a municipal liquor store is supposed to do, Kessler said. 

“We have a lot more support from the council than we used to,” he added. 

It faced potential closing in 2009 during the recession when an audit for year ending Dec. 31, 2008, the total operating income of the liquor store was a loss of $10,902.

That was a net loss in two of the last three consecutive years that prompted the question of continuing operations or closing it. The only time a municipal liquor store can be closed is if it shows a loss in two of three consecutive years.

Luckily, the council kept it open, and now it’s doing well in 2018. It’s not only the staff and customers that keep the liquor store floating, it’s practical business solutions that work. 

The liquor store maintains competitive pricing with American Legion Post 249 and Norski’s Saloon, they control the amount of inventory they have, bring in new products such as craft beer and wine and keep the off-sale fresh.

When you have inventory sitting around that’s not on the shelf and not being sold, it goes against your bottom line on the accounting sheet, Kessler said.

In fact, the liquor store has done quite well for the past three years. Profits from the liquor store total more than $100,000, and as previously mentioned, allows the city to use their own money. 

An auditor recommended the council keep at least $100,000 in the account in event of emergencies.

The city’s decision not to have the liquor store open on Sundays has proved to be positive, as some cities’ sales had slowed down. The option is now legal in Minnesota.

The liquor store was established in 1956. Kessler has managed the store for about three years.

He was also nominated and elected to the Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association (MMBA) Board of Directors last April. He attributes that success to The Corner Store.

The MMBA represents the 223 stores in Minnesota. They work with lobbyists on legislation, support struggling stores and give direction.

Kessler recently talked with a liquor store manager from Silver Bay and brainstormed ideas to keep their liquor store floating.

“It’s nice to have that,” he said. “It’s nice to have if we’re struggling. I asked the other day what our range of sales should be, and we decided between 30 and 40 percent. We’re right at 37 percent so we’re doing it right.”